Living in Mexico
Moving to Mexico? Or just tinkering with the idea? Here's our round up of what to keep in mind if you're thinking of relocating to Mexico.
From digital nomads and location-independent freelancers to expats working for local or international companies to retirees, Mexico is a top draw for foreigners wanting to live abroad. It's hugely popular country for Americans, because it's close to the US yet offers a lifestyle that's totally different. The country is packed with magnificent coastlines, picturesque mountains, enigmatic cities, excellent cuisine and a friendly, welcoming culture.
Pros & Cons of Living in Mexico
First things first. Pros and cons are highly subjective and it’s all about your attitude and how you approach the things you like or don't like. Be open. Accept that things won’t be like they were at home and that no country is perfect--there will always be reasons why you may not want to move to Mexico. Then again, adapting, integrating and discovering a country--including both its best features and its most challenging elements--is part of the adventure of relocating abroad.
When most people think about the Mexican climate, sunny, warm days usually comes to mind and overall, Mexico has only two distinct seasons, rainy (May-Oct) and dry (Nov-Apr). The country does boast an average of seven hours of sun per day throughout the year, but in terms of the average temperature, this is highly variable. But this also means that Mexico offers climates to suit (most) people, from tropical (and also hurricane-prone) beaches with surfing, kayaking and other water sports on offer to cactus-filled deserts with incredible wildlife to small cities adjacent to snow-capped mountains, where you can enjoy mild winters and embark on day hikes. Mexico City is subtropical and offers warm summers and mild winters, while San Miguel de Allende (a popular place to live for foreigners) in the highlands is temperate--dry and sunny most of the year--with chilly nights in winter but warm summers. And if you’re chasing the sun, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun are some of the sunniest spots in the country. And all three have beaches, too.
Mexico revamped its healthcare system in 2004 and overall, it’s considered good. IMSS (Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social) is Mexico’s social security system, and within it sits the national healthcare system. If you’re employed on a local (Mexican) contract you’ll automatically be enrolled in this healthcare system and will pay contributions. If you have a temporary or permanent resident visa, you can apply to this system on a voluntary basis (rates vary by age). Or you can do what many foreigners do and opt for private health insurance. Additional information is available on the official IMSS site (Spanish only). Note: if you are a retired US citizen, be aware that you are not covered by Medicare in Mexico, regardless of whether you live in or are traveling around the country.
Mexico is often a noisy country. Busy, multi-lane roads exist in many areas and it’s a late night culture. Gregarious fiestas are not uncommon and noise ordinances are not the rule here. In fact, Mexico City has some of the worst noise pollution in the world. You might live on a quiet street or be lucky enough to own a large abode facing the sea where you are gently coaxed to sleep by the sound of crashing waves...or you might not. So be prepared to potentially deal with more noise than you’re used to.
Larger cities like Mexico City and Monterrey have extensive metro systems and it’s easy to get around by public transport. Beyond these two cities, nearly all substantial cities and towns have a local bus system. For longer distances, bus systems run by private bus companies are excellent and many routes offer three tiers of service. The top tier is like business class on an airplane--think seats that go flat and super wide seats. Bottom line: the top two tiers offer a far more superior service than bus travel available in the US and UK such as Greyhound or National Express.
If you’re keen on owning a car and driving around the country. Mexico’s road network is fairly extensive and is generally in good shape, especially on the major toll roads that provide routes between larger cities.
Safety & Corruption 👮🏽♀️
Don’t let the media fool you--it is safe to live in Mexico. The violent crime that hits the news tends to affect those involved in illegal activities themselves and in most cases this does not affect the average visitor or resident, especially if you use common sense. Pickpockets and bag snatchers are issues on crowded subway cars and buses, public transportation stops, in markets, busy streets, crowded plazas and airports. In short, be smart and aware of your surroundings. If possible, travel during daylight hours, be more careful after dark and stick to toll roads when driving.
Corruption, on the other hand, is a significant issue in Mexico. The topic warrants it's own discussion and if you are keen to understand how widespread the corruption is, it's worth doing a bit of research and reading the most recent news reports on the subject. After all, it's a good idea to be aware of the political and socioeconomic challenges of a country you are considering moving to. The BBC Mexico country profile provides a solid, updated overview of Mexico and includes a snapshot of the current corruption situation.
What are the best places to live in Mexico? Where do many foreigners live?
This is subjective, of course, but foreigners definitely favor certain areas over others. If you’re from the US there are core places Americans often move to in Mexico, but these tend to be some of the more expensive places to live, too.
👙If you’re a beach bum:
Cancún, Playa de Carmen and Tulum on the East coast facing the Caribbean are popular and offer a serious tropical vibe and easy access to Mayan ruins. Cancun also boasts a major international airport with connections to over 25 countries, including frequent connections to the US. Over in the west, favorites include Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán, which face the Pacific and offer rocky topography interspersed with crescent beaches. Puerto Peñasco is also a big draw for foreigners. It sits on the Gulf of California and is only an hour from the Arizona border.
🌄If inland is more your thing:
San Miguel de Allende is a huge art and cultural hub and is hugely popular among foreigners who love its cobbled streets, colonial architecture and pretty, hilly terrain. Colonial, colorful and sitting pretty in mountain, Guanajuato is also a big draw as is, UNESCO-designated, elegant Oaxaca which is also a culinary destination and popular among foodies.
How much does it cost to live in Mexico? 💰
Is it really cheaper to live in Mexico? Well, it depends where you are moving from and what part of Mexico you move to. If you're coming from a major city in North America, Western or Central Europe or Australia--YES, it’s cheaper. For example, if you’re moving from the US to Mexico you’ll find that your money tends to go a lot further when it comes to everyday costs such as petrol, groceries, a cup of coffee, a haircut, public transport, taxi fare and gym membership. Unless you are 5-star-dining it with pricey French champagne every night, eating out and drinking is also far less expensive. So is rent, though common sense applies. (Want a 10 bedroom villa overlooking the Pacific with a butler and private chef? That’ll cost you, but it'll probably run less than it would back home.) 😉
It also depends where you want to be and what type of lifestyle you're craving. As a rough guide, according to Numbeo, a one- and three-bedroom apartment for rent in the city center of San Miguel de Allende costs around 12,486 and 25,415 pesos (US$656 and 1,335), whereas in the city center of Mexico City this will run around 11,248 and 21,432 pesos (US$591 and 1,126). A three course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two in either city is about US$26 (500 pesos). According to Nomadlist, coworking spaces in San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City are currently US $89 (1700 pesos) and US $614 (11,670 pesos) per month. And per GlobalPetrolPrices.com, a US gallon of gas (petrol) currently costs roughly US $3.80 (73 pesos) in Mexico (or about US 0.95 / 18 pesos per liter).
Visas and Boring Bureaucracy Blah Blah 🛂
Does anyone really want to deal with bureaucracy? No, but it’s kind of like the dentist--you can only ignore it for so long, but if you want to visit Mexico and potentially live in Mexico, eventually you’ll need deal with it. Try to think of it like this, though: engaging with local bureaucracy is often a window into local culture. Also, note that in the majority of cases, you must apply for the visa at the Mexican consulate or embassy outside of Mexico. If you’re wondering where the information is about the Mexican FM3 Visa (frequently called the retiree visa) or the FM2 visa (also known as the immigrante visa), those have been discontinued and replaced by the temporary and permanent visas listed below). For the most up-to-date information visit www.gob.mx (a Spanish-only resource for official Mexico-related government resources.
You need a valid passport to enter Mexico, with a few exceptions. If you're driving from the states, a few US states offer enhanced drivers licenses which may be used to enter Mexico by land only, for all the other US citizens you must present a US passport or passport card. Note: all US citizens need a passport to go to Mexico by air.
Tourist Visa (Visa Visitante, also known as an FMM)
Citizens of many countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the European Union are issued an FMM upon arrival. US citizens, for example, can stay in Mexico for up to 6 months without needing to do anything official. The FMM is an 180-day / six-month visitor visa. Everyone else must obtain the tourist visa prior to arrival from the relevant Mexican embassy or consulate in their home country. This visa is purely for tourism purposes and cannot be renewed.
Temporary Resident Visa (Visa de Residente Temporal)
This is intended for people who want to live in Mexico for more than 180 days / six months. It is issued for one year, can be renewed for up to four years and allows multiple entries into Mexico. The main element of this visa is that you need to prove you have an adequate amount of funds to support yourself while living in Mexico--the amounts change every year and are variable according to the applicant's situation (for example, there are different rules if you own property in Mexico, have family ties to the country, are retired or not, etc). The amount is tied to the minimum wage salary in Mexico, and is specified in pesos each year. As of 2018, if you are retired and want to live in Mexico you need to prove that you have a monthly income of roughly US$1400 (about 10 months’ of the minimum wage) OR your average savings balance over the past year must equal about US$23,000 (more or less 13 years of the minimum wage).
Permanent Resident Visa (Visa de Residente Permanente)
Want to live in Mexico for more than six months, live there indefinitely and potentially apply for citizenship? This is the visa you need. Again, there are many variables here and in some cases you can apply for this visa if you have never had a temporary residence visa (if you have family ties or are retired, for example). But iin many cases, before you apply for this visa, you must have held a temporary visa for several consecutive years.
What’s it like for an American living in Mexico? What about an Americans retiring in Mexico?
By far one of the largest expat communities in Mexico consists of Americans--according to the 2010 census by INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática, or the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics) there are officially between 738,000 and 1 million Americans living in Mexico, the largest immigrant group in the country. Many Americans moving to Mexico like the fact that it’s close and well-connected to the US, both in terms of miles, airports and times zones (handy for remote workers and digital nomads working for US-based companies). Plus, it’s a popular country for American retirees. Retiring in Mexico while drawing American social security (pension) payments means that the money generally goes a lot further than it would in the US, enabling retirees to enjoy a better quality of life than back home while still living on social security from the US.
Money matters--from banking to paying bills
Despite improvements in being able to pay for more things online, Mexico is still a cash country. While you can technically pay for many bills online (electric bills can increasingly be paid online), many still pay their gas bills in cash. For example, you might read that the local electricity website says you can pay online but then find that the site decides to reject your card for an unclear reason, it does not accept US cards or specific cards from other countries or some other block will arise and trying to pay online becomes one big FAIL. 🤦One way or another, whether you need to send cash to Mexico or just need to send money to Mexico to arrive in a different account, you’ll want to search for the best exchange rate and avoid hidden fees.
How to open a Bank account in Mexico 🏦
In order to open a bank account in Mexico you’ll need the following:
- A valid passport or official photo ID
- Proof of residence. This can be a recent utility bill or a tax receipt from a property bill. The definition of recent can be anywhere between one and three months. Aim to bring the most recent bill you have that is less than three months old.
- A minimum deposit (varies by bank, but generally between 500 and 1000 pesos)
- A visa: This is inconsistent and tricky. Many banks require a temporary or permanent resident visa. Some banks occasionally accept a tourist visa. There is no way to know 100%, so your best bet is to physically waltz into a branch and ask. You’ll need to open the account in person anyway.
Banks in Mexico
HSBC, Santander, BBVA Bancomer, Banamex and Banorte are some of the biggest banks in Mexico. If the bank you use at home has branches in Mexico, this is a great option as it may facilitate the process of opening an account, and if you transfer money via the two bank websites, the per transaction fees should--in theory--be lower than interbank transfer fees. Still, you’ll get a better exchange rate sending money to Mexico if you search for the best deal among money transfer providers.
Multi-currency accounts & Mexican pesos
You can also manage your money and exchange rates across multiple currencies with options like TransferWise’s borderless account, which supports Mexican Pesos (the account also comes with a free debit card). While the account does not enable you to add Mexican pesos directly, it does offer the chance to hold Mexican Pesos in an account. The account allows you to receive money from other people in four currencies--US and Australian dollars, Euros and British Pounds and add funds to your own account in 18 currencies. Then, if you’re super savvy and you’ve set up an alert for when the exchange rate is on your favor, you can exchange your money to Mexican pesos and save a bundle with, for example, a good US dollar to Mexican peso rate.
Special note for people with Bank of America accounts: Bank of America use to waive the $5 dollar ATM fee for withdrawals from Santander bank in Mexico, as of 2018, but this is not longer the case. Bank of America still waives the fee is you withdraw funds from ScotiaBank locations (but note that you will still be charged a 3% transaction fee). The most up to date details on Bank of America foreign transaction fees and partner back in Mexico is available here.